LOS ANGELES – Once again, the Stanley Cup final provided Eastern Conference teams a glimpse of what they’re up against when it comes to building legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. And once again, the Western Conference proved so superior that it’s almost as though teams in the east and west are playing in two different leagues.
Not only did a Western Conference team win the Stanley Cup for the sixth time in nine years since the 2004-05 lockout, it wasn’t even close. Don’t let the fact that three of the five games of the Stanley Cup final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers went to overtime fool you.
“I don’t want to say this series was the easiest, but it was the least physically demanding without a doubt,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “The other series were more physical and tougher on the body. It was still a good series, but the other ones were tougher.”
The Kings came well ahead of the Rangers in every significant advanced stat and held the Rangers to zero goals after the second period of all five games. In the third periods of Games 4 and 5, the Kings outshot the Rangers 27-4. If not for the fact that the Kings lollygagged their way through the first periods of Games 1 and 2 and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had not been heroic in Games 4 and 5, this series would not even have been as close as it was.
“It’s a war out here,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi said of the Western Conference. “It’s a war of attrition to get out of this conference.”
Some other thoughts from the 2014 Stanley Cup final:
* Did anyone not come away from this series thoroughly impressed with Kings youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson? Pearson is one of those rare players who could conceivably win a Stanley Cup before winning the Calder Trophy. Because he played exactly 25 games this season, Pearson will still be considered a rookie in 2014-15. The prospect of playing a full season playing with Jeff Carter and Toffoli should make him an early favorite to contend for the Calder.
* Can we immediately dispense with the term ‘puck luck,’ for like forever?
* The Columbus Blue Jackets have to be thinking of what might have been. The number of former Blue Jackets in the final was staggering – Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and Anton Stralman for the Rangers and Marian Gaborik and Cater for the Kings. It has to sting that they dealt Brassard, Dorsett and Moore to get Gaborik, then got almost nothing from Gaborik before trading him to the Kings for Matt Frattin and a draft pick. But what has to hurt most is that in the 2005 draft, Blue Jackets management and scouts were torn between taking one of two players with the sixth overall selection. Their instincts told them to take Gilbert Brule with that pick. The other player, Anze Kopitar, went to the Kings five picks later.
* It’s interesting how, more than any other team, the Chicago Blackhawks provided the gold standard for the Kings. Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he spent the entire Olympic break trying to figure out how to beat the Blackhawks and Lombardi said the matchup with Chicago is the one that gives the Kings the biggest challenge. “That series, clearly, if you looked at it on paper and you did the matchups, it’s a seven-game series and it’s going to go down to the last goal,” Lombardi said. “You’ve really got to respect that team. They’re similar to us. You look at the age of that team…and they’re not going anywhere.”
* Sutter on why his team was able to show so much resilience in the playoffs: “Because we won before. It’s not as hard as you think.”
* Another indication the face of general managing in the NHL is changing: Five of the six GMs who have won the past eight Stanley Cups – Lombardi, Stan Bowman, Peter Chiarelli, Ray Shero and Brian Burke – are graduates of American universities and not one of them played a minute in the NHL. In fact, of the past 20 Cup winners, only two of them have had GMs who also had significant NHL careers – Bob Gainey with the Dallas Stars in 1999 and Jim Rutherford with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
* Game 5 overtime hero Alec Martinez, who also scored the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Western Conference final, was born in Michigan, but started his minor hockey career in Santa Clara, Calif., and played for the San Jose Jr. Sharks.
* If Gaborik is smart, he’ll find a way to work out a long-term deal with the Kings that works out for both parties. He’ll never find a situation that could be better for him than the one that exists in Los Angeles.
* Somebody is going to offer Stralman a lot of money this summer.
* Any NHL team looking to improve its game presentation should come to Los Angeles and learn from whoever does it here. You’d think Tim Leiweke, who once ran this place, would have done something by now about the Toronto Maple Leafs game presentation, which is indisputably among the worst in the NHL. The Kings run an incredible montage of their players as youngsters in minor hockey tournaments, then show them as NHLers. The Leafs make sophomoric jokes about their opponents and have The Great Canadian Goalie Race, where a bunch of idiots run around the ice trying to maim one another.
* This from former International Ice Hockey Federation media relations director Szymon Szemberg, who is now running the new Champions Hockey League in Europe: Alexander Stubb, the son of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s European scouting director Goran Stubb, was elected prime minister of Finland Friday.